Myanmar Military Urges Go-Slow on Constitutional Changes That Would Dilute Its Power

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Myanmar soldiers march in a formation during a parade marking the country's 74th Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw, March 27, 2019.
Myanmar soldiers march in a formation during a parade marking the country's 74th Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw, March 27, 2019.

The deputy commander-in-chief of the Myanmar military on Wednesday said the country’s constitutional reform efforts should be in line with existing law, and warned that any effort to change the charter, written by the military to guarantee its political dominance, through popular power rather than legal means would disrupt Myanmar's stability.

Vice Senior General Soe Win, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Army, made the comments about the newly formed constitutional reform committee spearheaded by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government at a ceremony marking the country's 74th Armed Forces Day in the capital Naypyidaw.

He warned against implementing the desire of the majority without considering what other stakeholders want, calling it a violation of the rules.

“Democracy is a process bound by laws based on the people’s aspirations,” he said. ”It must also respect the desires of minority groups.”

“Insisting on something by the desire of one majority alone is a violation of the rules,” he said. “It will make those who play by the rules unwilling to cooperate. As evidenced by what has happened in history, it will disrupt stability in the country. Lessons should be learned.”

The civilian-led NLD government pushed for the formation of the joint constitutional reform committee to determine which parts of the current 2008 charter, drafted by a military junta that previously ruled the country, should be amended to remove elements considered undemocratic.

Lawmakers from the military and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) oppose the panel which will likely propose changes that will erode the political power of the armed forces. They have argued that that the committee’s formation was not in accordance with the constitution.

The current charter gives military members of parliament an automatic 25 percent of seats, a crucial veto over proposed changes to the charter, and control of three defense and security ministries.

RFA’s Myanmar Service was unable to reach NLD spokesmen Myo Nyunt, Nyan Win, and Monya Aung Shin for comment.

NLD lawmaker Aung Kyi Nyunt, who submitted an urgent motion to parliament in January to form the committee and now sits on the panel, was also unavailable for comment.

Another NLD lawmaker, Myat Nyana Soe, who serves as  secretary of the 45-member committee, declined to comment, saying that he had not yet reviewed Soe Win’s speech.

A statement issued by the NLD’s Central Executive Committee to commemorate Armed Forces Day said that the party is “working steadfastly” to amend the constitution through parliament with support from the people.

“We would like to urge the people, nationalities, political parties, and the military to strive in unity to bring about amendments to the 2008 constitution, national peace, and a democratic federal union as envisaged by the people in the resistance to the fascists 74 years ago," the statement said, referring to the Myanmar military's fight against Japanese forces that occupied the country in 1945 — the event Armed Forces Day commemorates.

Peace conference not over yet

Soe Win also said that the Union Peace Conference, also known as the 21st Century Panglong Conference, was not over yet and that constitutional amendments would be effective only if they covered new issues that might come out of future rounds of talks.

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi began holding the series of peace talks among government representatives, the Myanmar military, ethnic armed groups, and political parties in 2016 to try to end seven decades of armed conflict that have stymied Myanmar’s transition to a democratic federal union.

During his address, Soe Win also stressed that ethnic armed groups that have not signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire accord (NCA) must do so to complete the political engagement processes.

“I would like to appeal to all ethnic armed groups to participate in the political engagement by joining the NCA, so that we can have free and fair elections and avoid any wrongdoing,” he said.

He also urged ethnic armies to participate in future sessions of the Union Peace Conference and make step-by-step progress towards joining the NCA.

Only 10 ethnic armed organizations have signed the NCA. Eight others held collective talks with Myanmar peace negotiators last week in a bid to jump-start the country’s peace process, which has been stalled by ongoing fighting in ethnic regions of the country.

With regard to the current armed conflict between Myanmar forces and the Arakan Army (AA) in western Myanmar’s turbulent Rakhine state, Soe Win said, “We are working on restoring peace and order in northern Rakhine state, where stability was disturbed due to interference by external forces.”

“I want to make it clear that the military will eradicate any rebel group that disrupts stability and the rule of law in the country,” he added.

Myanmar’s commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing could not deliver this year’s speech at the ceremony and military parade because of a minor leg injury, the military’s information team said.

Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.





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